The NCAA Board of Directors today will decide whether to end the reliance on standardized test scores to determine academic eligibility to participate in intercollegiate sports. The decision would end a practice that began in 1983 with Proposition 48 and likely would affect the prep schools that often serve as alternatives for athletes who haven't qualified to play Division I athletics.
One such athlete is Ahmad Brooks, a former Hylton High standout who committed to Virginia but is now at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. While he and his Hargrave teammates prepare to face Virginia's junior varsity team on the field, Brooks is concentrating on raising his standardized test scores so that he can be in Charlottesville in January.
In the future, those in Brooks's position might not face the same fate. Currently, the SAT minimum score is 820 for a student with a core GPA of 2.5 and above. The new proposal would adjust the sliding scale under which a student with a 2.55 core GPA would need an 800 on the SAT to qualify. Students with a 2.75 core GPA would need a 720 under the proposal. Students with a 3.55 core GPA would need the minimum score of 400 under the proposal.
Prep schools such as Hargrave and Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va., accept student-athletes that typically have the GPA to qualify for Division I but lack the needed standardized test scores. Student-athletes who lack the necessary GPA, or both, typically attend a junior college, where they must graduate with an associate's degree before moving on to Division I. Thus, the elimination of an SAT cutoff score likely would have the greatest impact on prep schools.
"It would definitely affect our guys," said Bob Kirk, the longtime men's basketball coach at Allegany Community College in Cumberland, Md. "I think more people would qualify. We get guys [coming here] that are really, really close. Our recruiting strategy is that we wait as late as we can. We only bring in a limited number of kids. We are going to miss on some good kids. I just hope they aren't too quick to take them in."
The reform package would be implemented in August 2003, and would also increase the number of core courses required for initial eligibility from 13 to 14, as well as increase the eligibility standards for students after their first and second years of college.
The new standards would affect less than 1 percent of all recruits who would enter college next fall, said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of membership services. Of that 1 percent, 75 percent are minority students and 60 percent are black.
"We know there are kids right now who are ineligible simply because of their test score who do as well or better than some students who are eligible," Lennon said. "That strikes a lot of people as unfair."
In previous years, the 1 percent affected by Proposition 48, the 1983 policy that set minimum standards of first-year eligibility, might have spent at least a semester at a prep school or two years at a junior college working to qualify.
Once an athlete's core GPA is established in high school, it cannot be improved, Lennon said.
The need for dual avenues to Division I athletics would be slightly diminished under the proposed package, coaches say. Kirk said his program would definitely take a hit. Houston Rockets all-star Steve Francis played a year at Allegany to become eligible at Maryland, and current Maryland basketball players Ryan Randle and Jamar Smith are among the many Division I products from the western Maryland school.
"In the end, it will affect the high-level players most," said Michael Preston, the post-graduate boys' basketball coach at Hargrave Military Academy. "Schools will be looking to get those kids in school somehow. The ones that aren't getting a whole lot of looks, if no one's recruiting them, there will be no one pulling them away from prep schools. If a kid can just make it academically, a lot of schools will take them because they can play. It might affect the high-level kids more than the low-level kids."
Brooks could have attended Virginia as a partial qualifier, but he couldn't have played and would have had to pay his way to the school and to risk a year of eligibility. Instead, he chose Hargrave, where he has taken the SAT and ACT, and is awaiting his test results. Hargrave Coach Robert Prunty said he anticipates Brooks qualifying and attending Virginia in the spring, a process he might not have needed to go through under the new package.
Brooks's high school coach, Bill Brown, said Brooks's GPA was slightly higher than 2.5, and that "at one time he wasn't too far off" on the SAT.
"The kids who are on the borderlines, we won't be getting those kids anymore," Prunty said. "The borderline kids that have the core GPA, but they are about 60 or 70 points away, they would meet those standards as far as the new rules."
"I think the quality of the big-time elite players, that is where you are going to fall short," said Raphael Chillious, the boys' basketball coach for the post-graduate basketball team at West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Md. "A lot of those guys now are fairly close with the SATs. . . . Two or three years down the road, I think there will be a major obstacle to overcome. You will see in prep [school] basketball a lot more Division II and Division III level players instead of the high major D-I's and the low major D-I's."
However, the package certainly won't put the preparatory schools or junior colleges out of the athletics business, coaches say.
Of Prunty's 71-member football roster, he estimated that half are there not to raise their test scores, but to generate more college offers without losing college eligibility. At Fork Union, Coach John Shuman said half his 43-member roster -- not including All-Met Keenan Carter (Potomac, Va.) -- was there for the same reasons.
At West Nottingham, Chillious has seven post-graduate players, and only one had not yet qualified. Some players at the Cecil County school, such as South Carroll graduate and Mount Airy resident Josh Boone, were offered scholarships from mid-major level college basketball programs as a high school senior, but wanted to generate more interest.
Boone recently made an oral commitment to play basketball at the University of Connecticut next year.
As for the junior colleges, Kirk anticipated that there might be an echo effect, with some initial qualifiers under the proposal having trouble with the proposal's toughened stance on eligibility standards for students after their first and second years of college, as did Bob Larson. Larson, the head football coach at Garden City Community College in Kansas, has 23 active professional football players that have spent time at Garden City.
"Time will tell how it affects us," said Larson, who coached running back Corey Dillon, who later qualified and went on to the University of Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals. "I don't know that when the standards went up that all those great players came down here. You didn't see the Jucos swelling with too many great players. I think it will even out. If we don't get them now, we will probably get them a year after they fail."